Statistical analysis of the dependence of large-scale Birkeland currents on solar wind parameters
Abstract. The spatial distributions of large-scale field-aligned Birkeland currents have been derived using magnetic field data obtained from the Iridium constellation of satellites from February 1999 to December 2007. From this database, we selected intervals that had at least 45% overlap in the large-scale currents between successive hours. The consistency in the current distributions is taken to indicate stability of the large-scale magnetosphere–ionosphere system to within the spatial and temporal resolution of the Iridium observations. The resulting data set of about 1500 two-hour intervals (4% of the data) was sorted first by the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) GSM clock angle (arctan(By/Bz)) since this governs the spatial morphology of the currents. The Birkeland current densities were then corrected for variations in EUV-produced ionospheric conductance by normalizing the current densities to those occurring for 0° dipole tilt. To determine the dependence of the currents on other solar wind variables for a given IMF clock angle, the data were then sorted sequentially by the following parameters: the solar wind electric field in the plane normal to the Earth–Sun line, Eyz; the solar wind ram pressure; and the solar wind Alfvén Mach number. The solar wind electric field is the dominant factor determining the Birkeland current intensities. The currents shift toward noon and expand equatorward with increasing solar wind electric field. The total current increases by 0.8 MA per mV m−1 increase in Eyz for southward IMF, while for northward IMF it is nearly independent of the electric field, increasing by only 0.1 MA per mV m−1 increase in Eyz. The dependence on solar wind pressure is comparatively modest. After correcting for the solar dynamo dependencies in intensity and distribution, the total current intensity increases with solar wind dynamic pressure by 0.4 MA/nPa for southward IMF. Normalizing the Birkeland current densities to both the median solar wind electric field and dynamic pressure effects, we find no significant dependence of the Birkeland currents on solar wind Alfvén Mach number.